A Breast Cancer Warrior Fighting through College
- Anne With An E star Miranda McKeon, 19, was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 14. She then underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, a preventative double mastectomy and now she has a surgery today to remove all of her lymph nodes and a piece of skin on her left breast.
- She’ll then have proton therapy radiation in mid-January.
- McKeon is doing well, but she’s struggling with the timing of things. She’s disappointed her radiation had to get pushed back because now she’ll have to spend about six weeks away from college.
The 19-year-old star started the video by saying that her hair was growing back slowly but surely after her eight rounds of chemotherapy to battle stage I breast cancer.
Read MoreView this post on Instagram
“It’s really growing and honestly guys, going through this process, you will not believe how excited I get over like the tiniest bit of growth,” she said. “I’m rocking, a pretty tight buzz cut right now. And I’m so happy about it.”
She then went on to tell her followers about how her last surgery – a preventative double mastectomy – went.
“My first surgery went really well,” she said. “I love the outcome… I’m healing really well. Super happy with how I look. And so I feel really great about that.”
McKeon also shared that she had four lymph nodes removed from her first surgery and that the pathology reports revealed that she had two positive lymph nodes and a positive margin in the breast area. Based that information, as well as other factors, McKeon decided to have all of her lymph nodes removed as well as a piece of skin from her left breast.
“I’ll probably be able to sleep really well knowing that everything is definitely gone for the rest of my life,” she said of this surgery.
But, as a college student, McKeon is struggling with the timing of everything.
“The really annoying piece about this is not the surgery that I’m having today, but… because I have the surgery that I wasn’t anticipating, radiation gets pushed back, and so I was expecting to finish radiation before second semester started,” she said. “These are just cancer in college girl problems. I was expecting to have my radiation done before second semester started, and I was like so looking forward to a semester just like without anything… And now, radiation will be starting like mid-January. So, I’ll have like two weeks at school and then I’ll have to start radiation. And I think the plan right now is to go back home for it because I’m trying to do like this thing called proton therapy radiation, and it’s kind of new or there aren’t a ton of facilities but there’s one in Harlem in New York. So, I think I’ll go there.”
McKeon admitted that she sobbed for a long time upon hearing the news of her radiation timing, but she knows she’ll bounce back.
“I’ll take the change and adapt to it, as I always do,” she said. “So, I will be taking a leave of absence from school for about six weeks while I get radiation every day.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. And while mammograms aren’t perfect, they are still a great way to begin annual screening. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women begin mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45. However, as we’ve seen in the case of McKeon, a breast cancer diagnosis can come at any age.
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, it’s important to be vigilant and speak with your doctor. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
There are many treatment options for people with breast cancer, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
What Is Proton Therapy?
Proton therapy – the form of treatment McKeon will undergo in January – is a relatively new form of radiation that does have its advantages, but it’s generally more expensive than other treatment alternatives. It tends to work best for patients whose cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body. The biggest advantage of this kind of radiation is that it minimizes damage to healthy cells since the protons stop at the target, compared to x-rays which continue to pass through the body and leave an exit dose.
Still, there is some debate about whether proton therapy is really necessary given its cost and limited availability for large portions of the country. Dr. Keith Cengel, a radiation oncologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, says x-ray or traditional photon radiation “are pretty darn good” for small, early stage lung cancers, but he did not comment on proton therapy for breast cancer.
“As the technology gets better, we’re going to get to a point where you can deliver protons the same way as you deliver regular X-rays in every small town in America, potentially,” he said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
Cost of cancer care affects many things, including, unfortunately, therapy options. But it’s important to try to get multiple opinions after a doctor makes a treatment recommendation. With proton therapy, for instance, other cheaper alternatives might be a better option when factoring in financials and availability. So, it’s good to explore your options.